Monday, May 31, 2010
An Inside Look at Mexican
Guns and Arms Trafficking
By Barnard R. Thompson
In his Washington, D.C. speech
of May 20, to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress, Mexican
President Felipe Calderón criticized gun and assault weapon sales in the USA, and their subsequent unlawful exportation to
Mexico. Saying these are major contributing factors in the violence and drug
cartel fighting that are raking his country, the President called on U.S. officials to take action in order to end the flow
of deadly weapons going south of the border.
obvious fact is Mexico has a serious problem with the number of assault weapons and other arms that are already in country
— and that continue to be brought in, a plague that the Mexican Congress wants to know more about, and to know just
what is being done to end this scourge and the brutal end results.
In a dictum published May
26 in the Senate Gazette, that offered a national view and perspective often missed
abroad, a bicameral entity of the Mexican legislature (the "Second Commission") is calling for Mexico's Attorney General to
give Congress a detailed report on illegal arms trafficking, as well as actions being taken together with the Secretariats
of National Defense, Navy, Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Public Security, plus the Customs Administration.
Before continuing, and as a point
of reference, it should be pointed out that the Mexican Constitution allows the possession of firearms. Article 10 states: "The inhabitants of the United Mexican States have the right to have arms in their domicile
for their protection and legitimate defense, excepting those prohibited by Federal Law and those reserved for the exclusive
use of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard. Federal law will determine
the cases, conditions, requisites and places (when and where) inhabitants will be authorized to carry arms."
Firearms are further, and more
specifically, governed and controlled by the Federal Firearms and Explosives Law, and its Regulation.
Yet the reality is that applicable laws, a number
of requisites and the system are employed — by design — in such a draconian manner, by the responsible government
ministries (led by National Defense), individual permits for honest citizens to own firearms are in effect impossible to obtain,
excepting by the privileged elite.
Guns must be registered with the military, plus the
military's area command must notify the Interior Secretariat (Gobernación) of each
person and firearm registered. Furthermore, to take whichever gun outside of one's domicile
a license to carry arms is also required. And then allowable ammunition has its
own set of hoops and hurdles.
The Second Commission's accord,
in the beginning portion of the document, asks the Attorney General to report on actions being taken by that office this year
in order to do away with arms trafficking in Mexico. And it calls upon the Attorney
General and the Secretary of Public Security to appear before the Permanent Commission of Congress (the governing legislative
body during recess periods) to give an update of their firearms control activities, and those underway with the Secretariat
of National Defense, within 30 weekdays once the dictum is approved.
Point Five of the document, quoting
Secretariat of National Defense statistics, states that in 2007 there were 5,174 weapons seized in Mexico, in 2008 the total
was 14,774, in 2009 the total reached 24,260, and so far this year 11,269 weapons have been confiscated. As well, it notes that while there have been important numbers of weapons seized in recent years by the
armed forces, the illegal trafficking of arms continues to increase with many weapons seized being of ever greater firepower,
including rocket launchers and antitank rockets.
In its "Considerations" section,
the document says that the illegal trafficking and manufacturing of firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related materials
must be fought, impeded and stamped out. This, it continues, due to the harmful
effects of these activities on the security of the state while putting the nation, social development, the economy, and the
right to live in peace at risk.
It also points out that Mexico
is a signatory nation of CIFTA, the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms,
Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, while emphasizing the need for international cooperation, information
sharing and other appropriate measures.
Point Four gives a brief history
of Mexico's Inter-institutional Group for the Prevention and Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives Trafficking (GC-Armas),
which is today under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's National Center of Planning, Analysis and Information in order
to Fight Crime (CENAPI). From 1995 to 2007 GC-Armas was part of the Interior
Ministry and its intelligence agency.
The GC-Armas group is made up
of the heads of Mexico's Secretariats of National Defense, Navy, Government/Interior, Foreign Affairs, Treasury and Public
Credit, and Public Security, plus the Attorney General. As well, it includes
attachés from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Immigration and Customs (sic), and
the U.S. Department of Defense.
The GC-Armas group is the coordinating
entity for joint Mexico-USA operations related to the detection, monitoring, and detention of arms trafficking suspects crossing
the border. As a result of Mexico's bilateral experience with the U.S., the GC-Armas
group has become the only official entity of the Mexican government for contacts and the exchange of information with the
ATF, the congressional document states.
Considering the size and importance
of Mexico City, and the national sphere of interest of the congressional inquiry, the nation's capital city is singled out
in several places. And special attention is focused on the Tepito marketplace
and barrio, in the Cuauhtémoc district of Mexico City.
Tepito, Mexico City's largest
market where just about anything and everything can be found, has long been known for its illegal goods and criminal activities,
and today it is said to be the base of operations for a number of gangs. The
dictum mentions "… the evolution of the phenomenon of illicit arms trafficking in said place, insofar as if in past
years they were bought and sold, now high power weapons are rented in order to commit crimes."
To better explain this Tepito
arms trafficking "phenomenon," the Mexico City newspaper El Universal ran a piece
last May 4 titled, "They rent weapons to kill," with a subtitle saying, "There is a broad supply for criminals: grenades,
motorcycles, new or used handguns and rifles; they are available in the Tepito barrio."
The following comes from El Universal:
"In the Tepito barrio
there is a new business: the rental of motorcycles and firearms as a package. The
main customers are young people who use both 'tools' to attack and sometimes kill. Although it is not the only place where
you can get weapons, the area has become the arsenal that supplies drug cartels.
"According to sources
and research in the nation's capital neighborhood, the supply of weapons is varied and available to anyone with at least 3,000
"Merchants make it clear
that prices are more accessible if the weapons have been 'burned' (used). A 9
mm 'clean' (new) [pistol] is 12,000 pesos [US$934.00], and assault [rifles] like the AK-47 are 15,000 pesos [US$1,168.00].
The latter, like hand grenades, are only available 'on request.'
"In Tepito, those interviewed
reported, monthly or bimonthly shipments arrive that are distributed to different destinations. The shipments include revolvers,
submachine guns, rifles and grenade launchers, [and] many of them end up in the hands of organized crime groups, they acknowledge.
"'Every 15 days or every
month I get strong requests: from 20 to 60 weapons,' a person affirmed who says he has eight years in this business.
"A percentage of the weapons,
the seller said, come from Mexico via Ministry of Defense personnel who provide [them] in part from weapons seized in raids,
or stolen from the ministry's own arsenal.
"Researchers note that
points of sale of illegal weapons exist nationwide. Georgina Sánchez, from the
Collective for Security with Democracy and Human Rights, said that there are 15 million illegal weapons in the country —
'A very conservative estimate.'
"Mario Arroyo, of the
Citizen's Institute for Studies on Insecurity, says that given the easy availability and insecurity, people are choosing to
have a gun for their protection, 'which raises the levels of violence.'"
The Second Commission of Congress,
in its aforementioned document, is asking federal authorities to establish a permanent operation and deployment in Tepito,
coordinated with the Mexico City (Federal District) government. This in order
to detect contraband and drug sales, and to put an end to the buying and selling — and rentals — of pistols, submachine
guns, rifles, grenade launchers and other death dealing weapons.
Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence; country
and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services.